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How To Manage Absenteeism

Published July 08, 2019 (last updated February 21, 2023) - NZ Operations Manager

Employees not presenting for work, either habitually or for a prolonged period of time, is an ever present issue for businesses. In 2017, it was reported that absenteeism costs SMEs roughly $6,000 per year on average.

Causes for absenteeism can vary, but commonly fall into two categories: the employee may be dealing with a serious personal or family hardship; or dissatisfaction with work.

Factors for absenteeism include:

  • A mental or physical illness or injury
  • Burnout, stress or low morale
  • A family member in need of care
  • Bullying or harassment
  • Job or employer dissatisfaction
  • Job hunting

Tackling absenteeism can be difficult and complex, as the causes for an employee’s prolonged absence can be serious and very personal. Even just discussing the issue with an employee can be delicate.

However, there are a few steps you can take to ensure employees understand your position on absenteeism, and to get them back on track to regular work attendance and to being a happy and healthy employee:

  • Create an official employee attendance policy, and enforce it consistently. Let employees know you’re keeping a regimented record of your attendance.
  • Detail clearly that you understand personal reasons may be the cause for their absenteeism, and that dealing with those issues is separate to dealing with their irregular absence from work. Make it clear that you have anti-bullying procedures in place, for instance.
  • Communicate to employees that absence impacts your business, as well as them, and may result in their co-workers working more to cover their absence
  • Record employee absences, and document all attempts to contact absent employees
  • Address the situation upon the absent employee’s return and inform them of attendance expectations.
  • Hold return to work meetings or welfare meetings to attempt to gather information about the underlying cause of the issue
  • Again, document everything.

Taking these steps can help prevent employee absenteeism. Keep in mind that a human-first approach – that is, misconduct is not the primary reason for absenteeism – is the best approach to take in these situations.  While you can address any absence notification failures, treating genuine absence as misconduct can result in a successful claim from an employee.

For more information about bullying procedures, check out this video with Employsure’s Senior Adviser, Gabrielle Findlay. For other causes of absenteeism, Employsure has information on:

About Employsure

Employsure is one of New Zealand’s largest workplace relations advisers to small and medium businesses, with over 5,500 clients. We take the complexity out of workplace legislation to help small business employers protect their business and their people.

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